Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Puppet Masters Strike

The Puppet Masters, by Robert A. Heinlein, 1951, New American Library

I've read quite a lot of Heinlein's early work but this is one I've missed. Until now. I really enjoyed it. But then I like all of Heinlein's early work, especially those considered to be his juveniles. This one isn't quite a juvenile but it still has the same flavor of adventure and excitement. 

Most of you know that this is an alien invasion story, of course. A ship lands containing what come to be called "slugs," which attach themselves to the backs of people , through the spinal cord, and then take control over them. At first no one knows who is controlled and who isn't. But the human race soon comes up with countermeasures, such as having everyone strip to the waist. The war is on but there are many more twists and turns before the end, which I won't give away.

One thing a little different about this tale is that it takes place at an undefined future time after some great earthly war and after humans have begun to settle on both Mars and Venus. They have blasters and flying cars as well as space ships.

In 1994, there was a movie made from this book starring Donald Sutherland, but as I remember it was set in the modern day, without the futuristic elements. They don't necessarily have to be there to make the story a good one.

The slugs essentially appear to be single cells that function almost like a composite brain and I'm pretty sure this was a big influence on the Star Trek original series episode called "Operation Annihilate!" That first season episode featured single 'brain cell' looking parasites that rode the backs of people that they had taken over.  The similarity is too close to imagine that it was accidental. The episode aired in 1967. 

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Can I Quote You on That?

Here is a passage from an international bestseller. I changed two words. The name in the book is not “Smith,” but I didn’t want to give the title away by citing the name, which would be easy to google. Other than that, this is exactly as it’s written in the book.

By the way, this is the second time I’ve tried to read this book. This is about where I quit last time, but since everyone tells me I need to read it, I’m going to push on a little further. I’m reeling already, though, so we’ll see how far I make it. I’ll reveal more about this book later.

“Smith straightened sharply when he spied the tiny silver cross on the other side of the chaplain’s collar. He was thoroughly astonished, for he had never really talked with a chaplain before.
‘You’re a chaplain,’ he exclaimed ecstatically. ‘I didn’t know you were a chaplain.’
‘Why, yes,’ the chaplain answered. ‘Didn’t you know I was a chaplain?’
‘Why, no. I didn’t know you were a chaplain.’ Smith stared at him with a big, fascinated grin. ‘I’ve never really seen a chaplain before.’
The chaplain flushed again and gazed down at his hands.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Richard Hescox

A  nice little treat for me at CONtraflow Con was getting to meet Richard Hescox, who was the artist guest of honor. Although he has done much wonderful work since, I’ll always associate him with the covers for the Dray Prescot series of Sword and Planet novels published by DAW between about 1972 and 1988. This would include A Sword for Kregen, #20 in the series, my first exposure to the books, and still my favorite. Hescox didn’t do all the covers. There were 37 books published originally in that series in English, which was written by the British author Ken Bulmer. They were definitely an influence on my own Talera series.

I chatted with Mr. Hescox several times and he was charming and friendly, and very knowledgeable about art. I sat in on a panel where he showed images of some amazing fantasy art from around the world that has very seldom been seen. Many of these would make great covers. Check out his webpage to see what he is up to these days.

Here are some more of his covers for the Prescot series: 

Monday, September 26, 2016


Been a while since I've posted here, but I guess I've finally got some news worth sharing. I'll be a guest this coming weekend at the CONtraflow Con in the Greater New Orleans area. It'll actually be at the Airport Hilton, which is in Kenner, a suburb of New Orleans. I'll be doing panels on pulp fiction, forgotten writers, dark fantasy, and dreams and creativity, among others. Check out the link for more information. If you're around, come see  us. We always have fun!


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Nick Carter: Web of Spies

Nick Carter: Web of Spies: Award Books, 1966. I picked up this early incarnation of the long-running Nick Carter series years ago but only now got around to reading it. This is volume 11 in a series that broke 260 volumes. The standard cover is below but my cover is different. It's purple for one thing. 

The header gives this away as essentially a James Bond knock-off. It’s “A Killmaster Spy Chiller.” The character is definitely a James Bond type, a lady-magnet with incredible skills but dapper good looks—when he wants to show them. In this particularly tale, Carter is supposed to save an English woman scientist who has knowledge crucial to all sides in the Cold War. The woman is a lesbian and the Russians have sent in a beautiful female spy to seduce her and bring her over to their side. There’s a lot of action and a considerable amount of sex, which is quite tame by modern standards but was probably pretty risqué for the times. The sex definitely puts this into the “Men’s Adventure” category.

This series didn’t list the authors but simply used “Nick Carter” as the house name. A little research revealed that this particular volume was written by ManningLee Stokes. Stokes was an accomplished pulp writer who wrote for many series, including the Jeffrey Lord series, of which I’m a fan. I’ve got half a dozen of his books in that series and have generally enjoyed them. Stokes wrote a number of other Nick Carter books as well.

Although competently written, this story didn’t do a lot for me and I don’t see myself grabbing another dozen of these for future rainy days. It’s just not my genre of reading choice. If you like this sort of book, though, then I’m sure you’d like this particular one quite well.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Skelos: The Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy.

Skelos: The Journal of WeirdFiction and Dark Fantasy. Volume 1, Issue 1. Magazine: Summer 2016: 158 pages, Skelos Press.


How nice to once more hold in my hands a thick, meaty magazine in print form. The new Skelos Journal makes a solid debut on the scene, and I’m happy to know that more issues are to come. If the editors can keep up the quality of issue #1, we fans of pulp and fantasy fiction will have something to be proud of.

There are three managing editors for the new magazine, Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, and Jeffrey Shanks. All are known for their interest in and commitment to the work of Robert E. Howard, but Skelos is not a Howard journal, of which there are several out there.  Howard is represented in the first issue, but Skelos is a “weird fiction” magazine, and all that entails. This means it can’t be pigeonholed into one genre.

For one thing, the new magazine contains fiction of various lengths alongside scholarly—but not dry academic—articles. It contains poetry and even an illustrated comic-style story. The fiction and poetry is an interesting mix of heroic fantasy, pulp horror, and even science fiction. There are plenty of illustrations but the emphasis is on words and I, for one, am glad to see it.  Most magazines I pick up these days can be quickly scanned in an afternoon. I spent several days perusing Skelos and each trip into its pages brought new surprises and ideas.

Since there is a lot of meat on these bones, I’m not going to go over every piece in the mag. Scott Cupp and Keith Taylor are probably the biggest writer names here, but there are stories by Scott Hannan, David Hardy, Matt Sullivan, Ethan Nahté, Jason Ray Carney, and myself. David Hardy’s “The Yellow Death” was my favorite, although only by a slim margin over the other excellent offerings.

The nonfiction was uniformly good, with material from Jeffrey Shanks, Karen Joan Kohoutek, and Nicole Emmelhainz. Emmelhainz’s “A Sword-Edged Beauty as Keen as Blades:” was really a fascinating read and my favorite. This is an exploration of the gender dynamics in sword and sorcery, using C. L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry as an illustration.  While sword and sorcery is usually described as a very masculine and even anti-feminine genre,  Emmelhainz finds this to be far too simple of a description. I’m still studying on her ideas to see if I agree with them all, but it was fine and provocative reading.

For poets, we have Ashley Dioses, K. A. Opperman, Jason Hardy, Frank Coffman, Pat Calhoun, and Kenneth Bykerk. I was glad to see poetry in the mix here. Certainly this is something Howard included in his work and so it falls into the tradition.  I liked all of these pieces.

There are also reviews, and plenty of other gems hidden in these pages, including the excellent illustrated tale, “Grettir and the Draugr,” by Samuel Dillon and Jeffrey Shanks.  I highly recommend it all.